It’s a Sin — My “Special” School Days
New to this story? Start here with chapter one
Conclusion and final words
This is the final post from my school days. This one has been written by Joy Fenwick she went to my school around the same time, and I thought it would be great to get a female perspective so thank you, Joy.
Having successfully finished this project. I must admit that I do so with a heavy heart as it has become like living thing for both Jack and I, but all good things must end. As one door closes another door opens, so goes the saying. Watch out: we intend to bring It’s a Sin out in Kindle soon.
So where next? Three years ago, I wrote a book called Voice from the Verge, a collection of poems intertwined with prose which tells some of my story and what is important to me. I hoped, and still hope to publish this. So, we are going to publish parts of it on our blog hopefully to pique your interest for when we publish.
Introducing Joy and Karen
When I finished this, I realised that it was very much a boy’s story, well it would be — it is primarily my tale.
To show some fairness, I sent the first draft to two ladies who spent some time at my school a few years below my year to see if they would be willing to share their stories to add the girl’s side. Karen Gillies née Slee and Joy “Smiley” Fenwick.
Karen reminded me that her mum moved her to a school in Carlisle as she wanted her close to home. She did say she remembers in her new school (which was still a special school) that she could not find anyone to help her go to the toilet and had to hold it till she got home. Not a very comfortable or healthy situation.
As for Joy she gave me a right dressing down and told me I should have told her weeks ago that I was writing this as she has so much to say on the subject and I have given her so little time to prepare her contribution.
So, I have decided to make her contribution Appendix 2 and not mix it in my piece. I look forward to hearing what she has to say. If she’ll allow, I suggest a title “A story of Joy”
I remind her and everyone this blog is the beginning of the journey not its end.
When I began this piece, I decided to not name the school; following suggestions and contributions from others, I have decided to reverse that decision.
Just like individuals need to understand their past before discovering their futures, so do institutions. The name is Percy Hedley School as was — Percy Hedley Foundation as is now known.
I need to be honest with you and say that I disagree with you on some areas of Our School but not all, I think that is for a few reasons and the first one is being when I reached school age, the local authority and the “so-called professionals” labelled me as having learning disabilities because back then I had no speech at all, well no, I could make noises but not words so I was placed in a school at Houghton-Le-Spring for children with severe learning disabilities and the school wasn’t far from where I lived as I lived and still do live in Fencehouses within County Durham.
I must have begun to attend this school when I was round five years old as right from the beginning Mam knew that this was the wrong place for me as in no way did I have learning disabilities and I don’t mean that disrespectfully towards to anyone with learning disabilities. Nonetheless, the reason I say this is from an early age Mam knew that I had all of my buttons on as she would say, because if I needed or wanted anything I used to point to items, such as if I was sitting in the kitchen and I needed a drink, I would point to the sink tap, or if I wanted something to eat, I would point to the pantry.
Anyway, eighteen months later, Mam was called to go up to my school to see the headmistress Miss Pears, but I think Mam was thinking about going to talk to her about me but Miss Pears beat her to it, when Mam went in the headmistress’s office these two women had a discussion and basically the headmistress told Mam that I should not been placed in that school as I am physically disabled and there is nothing wrong with my intelligence level. and I have no learning difficulties. Miss Pears went on to explain that there was a boy who was attending Our school that was for children with physically disabilities, but back in the 1970’s there used to be a huge sign beside the school gate which said “Our School for Spastics” and Mam told me when I reached my adulthood that she always hated reading that sign as she hates that name Spastics.
Sorry I am digressing yet again, Miss Pears continue to say that Our School was not suitable for the little boy’s his educational needs so the powers that be, which were probably Mr. Johnson and Miss Pears and the local authority would like to do a straight swab, i.e. the little boy would start attending the school at Houghton -Le-Spring and I would begin to attend Our School, but before I did that Mam had to take me to Our School, for the morning to take, what I have always referred to as my IQ test, I know it wasn’t and I know it would have been called some fancy “so-called professional” name but I just call it my IQ test as it sounds grand.”
I can’t remember how Mam and I got to Our school that morning of my IQ test as my Da was a pit man and he couldn’t drive and even if he could drive, he couldn’t afford to buy, or run a car, as basically he used to wee most of his pay against the wall as he liked and still does like his beer, therefore, it was probably by ambulance or taxi that took us and brought us back home.
Sorry I am digressing once more, I can always picture in my head Mam carrying me in her arms because I was a tiny thing back then in 1975, along the top long corridor of the school, where Mrs. Moore’s class used to be, to reach the headmistress’s office and the headmistress was Mrs Shields and it was her who carried out the test and I remember her being a very small, smart lady with blonde hair and she was always smiling.
I had to sit on my Mam’s knee to do the test as my balance wasn’t very good when I was a bairn, the test consisted of series of brain exercises/tests, such as matching the various different shapes to place into a blue plastic ball with the shapes holes in it. identifying the pictures of the animals with the correct names etc, etc.
Obviously, Robert, I passed the test as I am a brain box (Joking) and I think that I began to attend Our School in that Easter, or it may have been earlier than that, i.e., a few weeks after I had taken the test.
I think, no I know you are correct when you state that special school in our era, even though I am not as old as you, focused on the medical model of disability, especially with their more severely disabled pupils and I may be wrong in saying this next thing but I am still going to say it, I think the more able-bodied pupils gained a slightly better education than us more severely disabled. Again, in my opinion this was because of two reasons, firstly, within the special schools of that time I think the main aim was to make us more severely disabled pupils look as normal as possible as people within British Society didn’t like looking at our twisted bodies in our wheelchairs, or walking with our walking frames, or to hear our strange speech in the streets. The second reason is, once again in my opinion, this is because most of the teachers, not all was of the opinion that the more able-bodied pupils had a better chance of living their life outside of the institution that is Special Schools including ours, than us more severely disabled pupils.
I noticed this fact more when I went into the seniors as Mrs Scott, I don’t know if she was there when you were a pupil, she used to teach one of the speech and language classes, I think, anyway, some of my class mates had the opportunity to take French lessons as in learning the language with Mrs. Scott. I asked if I could take them too. I was more or less told I could not speak English properly so I had no chance with French. On reflection this can be recognised as being discrimination within the institution that is special schools, so to speak, which was due to the fact that I have a severe speech impairment. Now I am not disagreeing that I may not have been able to say the French words as good as my class mates but at least I could read signs or a menu in a restaurant if I had visited France in my life which I did a year after leaving school.
Before I state how this school helped me, I would like to digress for a moment, as you stated in your piece and I have just said above there were able-bodied pupils at Our School with slight speech impairments, or behaviour issues but most of these left to attend state schools when their behaviour or speech improved. Nonetheless, there was one able-bodied pupil, which always puzzled and still does puzzle me why he was sent to our school in the first place and I think you will already know who I am talking about before I say his name. Keith Brown. Now the only disability and I would not even call it that, it was/is more a birth defect which was a Hair Lip, how I hate that term, with a very slight speech impairment everyone could understand what Keith was saying, it wasn’t like mine as in three quarters of the British population doesn’t understand what I am talking about until they get to know me. Now my brother-in-law Ken has a Hair Lip but he went to a state school. Yes, Ken got bullied because of his Hair Lip but he learned to stick up for himself and his mates would do the same for him, therefore, if bullying was the reason why Keith was at Our School, it didn’t work as I know Michael Tall used to bully Keith, telling him he was ugly etc. I must say I think Michael may have been jealous of Keith as more people liked Keith then Michael, I personally thought Michael was a rotten bastard and he made my life hell when I was either in Mrs Moore’s class or Mr. Kelly’s class.
I must be the odd one out as when I have chatted to some pupils out of our era of Our School, a large percentage of these individuals have stated that they bloody hated the place but as I reflect on my ten years there, I do it with mostly happy memories. Nonetheless, in no way am I saying that Our School was perfect as it had its many faults but in saying that I have to admit that Our school helped me to developed in what I would call three physical ways but because I am short on time, I am just going to tell you about one.
This physical way is the most important one but in saying that, they are all important as you know when I started to attend Our School, I had no speech but a few months into being a pupil there, I begun to say words and I think the first time that I said Mam to my Mam I think her eyes filled up. Now I don’t know if this would have developed anyway if I had stayed at my first school but my gut feeling is telling me that it would not as I can’t remember having speech therapy there.
However, all of my life I have been and I am still being judged for my speech impairment, because people assume when I meet them that I am either of a low-intelligence level or I am deaf. or both of these, and this gets on my titsends at times as people shout at me when they talk to me. Nonetheless, one advantage of having a speech impairment is when you meet an individual for the first time and if their shouting is getting on your titsends, you can always say “Stop fucking shouting I am not bastard deaf or fucking thick.” And the individual does not understand what the hell you are saying. After saying that there has been a few times when the person has understood and they have either pissed themselves laughing or told me off for being rude, but I just give them a look if to say, “Stop shouting then.”
Nonetheless, either way the shouting stops but what I am trying to say is the speech therapists that I had at Our School mainly Miss Burrell taught me to make myself understood no matter how long it takes me. This has stayed with me all my life as this is exactly why I say to an individual who I meet for the first time, especially new Carers who come from the agency for the first time to deliver my call “If you don’t understand what I am saying the first or second time just keep on asking me to repeat it because I don’t care how many times, I have to say the same thing as long as you understand what I am saying to you, or ask Mam to interpret.” I then go on to explain to the person, “Not to just say ‘yes’ ‘yes’ pretending that you understand me because it gets on my bloody nerves as it is totally rude.”
The majority of people do listen carefully when I am speaking to them and will ask me to repeat until they understand what I am saying, or they will ask Mam or the person who I am with to interpret, however, I do come across the odd fools sorry but that is what they are, as they always believe that they have more intelligence than “Joy With Athetoid Cerebral Palsy.” The reason being these fools say “Yes! Yes!” as they think that I am that bloody thick that I will not realise that they have no idea what the hell I am saying. Nevertheless, when this occurs, I will carry out one of two things, I will give them a dirty look that says I am not as thick as you think.” Then I will automatically repeat what I am saying until I know that they have understood me fully.
Alternatively, I will say to Mam, “Mam will you tell this idiot that I said …… as they have not got the patience to ask me to say it again.” On reflection this pretending to understand what I am saying could be very dangerous thing to do, because one day I could be telling a Carer, for example that I am not in my wheelchair properly so I need her to not move it util until I ease myself in. however, she pretends to understand me by saying, “Yes! Yes! I agree with you Joy!” and she moves my wheelchair and I end up faced down on our bathroom tiled floor with broken bones and blood pissing out of my head and face.
I would like to thank you Robert for giving me the opportunity to not only read your piece about your school days but also giving me the opportunity to contribute to it by asking me to give my opinion as a female pupil on our school and I have to admit that two days ago I remembered the place through rose tinned glasses which created red fogged memory. Reading your piece and writing this contribution to it has inspired me to take off the rose tinned glasses to clear the red the fog in my memory to continue to not only write about my school days but other periods of my life cycle but I will be writing the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
New to this story? Start here with chapter one
For another view of those school days, see Rob’s review of Paul Hodgson’s autobiography Give Them WingsPosted on July 9, 2021 #socialChange #SpecialEducation #Robert